Passive acoustic monitoring of animal populations with transfer learning

Emmanuel Dufourq*, Carly Batist, Ruben Foquet, Ian Durbach

*Corresponding author for this work

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Progress in deep learning, more specifically in using convolutional neural networks (CNNs) for the creation of classification models, has been tremendous in recent years. Within bioacoustics research, there has been a large number of recent studies that use CNNs. Designing CNN architectures from scratch is non-trivial and requires knowledge of machine learning. Furthermore, hyper-parameter tuning associated with CNNs is extremely time consuming and requires expensive hardware. In this paper we assess whether it is possible to build good bioacoustic classifiers by adapting and re-using existing CNNs pre-trained on the ImageNet dataset – instead of designing them from scratch, a strategy known as transfer learning that has proved highly successful in other domains. This study is a first attempt to conduct a large-scale investigation on how transfer learning can be used for passive acoustic monitoring (PAM), to simplify the implementation of CNNs and the design decisions when creating them, and to remove time consuming hyper-parameter tuning phases. We compare 12 modern CNN architectures across 4 passive acoustic datasets that target calls of the Hainan gibbon Nomascus hainanus, the critically endangered black-and-white ruffed lemur Varecia variegata, the vulnerable Thyolo alethe Chamaetylas choloensis, and the Pin-tailed whydah Vidua macroura. We focus our work on data scarcity issues by training PAM binary classification models very small datasets, with as few as 25 verified examples. Our findings reveal that transfer learning can result in up to 82% F1 score while keeping CNN implementation details to a minimum, thus rendering this approach accessible, easier to design, and speeding up further vocalisation annotations to create PAM robust models.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101688
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Informatics
Early online date14 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022


  • Bioacoustics
  • Convolutional neural networks
  • Deep learning
  • Transfer learning
  • Vocalisation classification


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